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2018 Unibet International Hurdle tips - George's 11/4 chance can bounce back from Fighting Fifth flop

Brian Healy 14 Dec 2018
Summerville Boy can bounce back from his recent poor run in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle to win the International Hurdle.

Brian Healy gives his runner-by-runner guide to the potential big race field for Saturday's Unibet International Hurdle.

The Grade Two Unibet International Hurdle features on Saturday’s second day racecard at Cheltenham as the International Meeting continues, and a competitive 2m 1f contest awaits punters with another strong renewal of this classy prize.

Getting underway at 3.05pm as the penultimate race on the card, a potential field of eleven runners could face the tapes for this Grade Two contest which boasts a first-prize of almost £80,000 to the winner and the chance to join the likes of My Tent Or Yours, triple-winner The New One, Zarkandar, Menorah, and Binocular who have all won this race in the last decade.

Formerly known as the Bula Hurdle, this race boasts a rich history and a long list of top-class winners have claimed this prize in addition to those mentioned previously, and champion jockey Richard Johnson boasts an excellent record in the contest having ridden the winner on six occasions.

The New One (17/2, Unibet) returns for another crack at this big prize in what could well turn out to be Nigel Twiston-Davies’ star’s swansong appearance.

The multiple Grade One-winner is firmly in the veteran stage, but he has an excellent record in this race with three wins, as well as chasing home My Tent Or Yours in the race twelve months ago.

The King’s Theatre gelding was attempting to give Nicky Henderson’s now-retired star 6lbs on that occasion, after which he chased home Champion Hurdler Buveur D’air at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle. He resumed winning ways when grinding out a victory in the Champion Hurdle trial at Haydock, but subsequent runs - which includes his return at Ffos Las in October - have suggested his best days are probably behind him.

He beat only one home in the Welsh Champion Hurdle on his return, and while he should strip fitter for that outing he is likely to prove vulnerable to a younger and more progressive rival.

The New One could make his final career start in Saturday's International Hurdle.

Old Guard (15/2, Unibet) won this race in 2015, beating Sempre Medici and Hargam, after which Paul Nicholls’ progressive hurdler was pitched in against Faughheen in that season’s Christmas Hurdle. 

He wasn’t seen out for nine months after that race, having finished fourth of five runners; but that season was largely disappointing for the Notnowcato who scored his sole win over fences prior to running a series of below-par runs back over timber.

He bounced back last term, winning the National Spirit Hurdle, and he has continued in good heart into this campaign where he has made the frame in all four outings which include finding only If The Cap Fits too strong at Ascot last month.

He was giving the winner weight that day so it was a more creditable effort in defeat; but this looks tougher and while it would be no surprise to see him go well again, he may just struggle on these terms to come out on top.

Nicky Henderson could have as many as three runners in Saturday’s Grade Two feature race, with Brain Power (13/2, Unibet) spearheading the trio.

Very smart over hurdles previously, he hasn’t really hit the heights over fences despite chasing home Footpad in last season’s Arkle Chase here in March; he was a subsequent faller at Aintree next time after which he underwent wind surgery ahead of a return to action back here last month where he finished fourth to Sceau Royal in the Shloer Chase.

The Kalanisi gelding may have needed that first run of the new campaign, and he is interesting on the back of that run as he returns to hurdling. He may well prove better on a flatter, sharper track than this venue however.

We Have A Dream (11/2, Unibet) was a leading novice last term, winning all five hurdles starts which included a Grade One at Aintree when beating Gumball by seven lengths.

Nicky Henderson’s Martaline gelding hasn’t matched that level in two starts this term, finishing third to stablemate Verdana Bleu at Wincanton on his return and then beating only two home at Ascot next time behind If The Cap Fits.

Old Guard finished ahead of him that day, but he could do better back over this shorter trip although it remains to be seen if he can reverse the form with Paul Nicholls’ charge.

Nicky Henderson could saddle as many as three runners in Saturday's International Hurdle.

Completing the possible Henderson triumverate, Call Me Lord progressed well last term with two wins to his name which include beating Lil Rockerfeller at Sandown on his final outing of the campaign in the Select Hurdle.

The Slickly gelding had earlier produced a strong performance under a big weight to go down all guns blazing in the Imperial Cup; but he looked a strong stayer when last seen, and he possibly may want a stiffer test on his return to action.

Willie Mullins could send rising star Laurina to contest this prize, and the Spanish Moon mare could prove a tough nut to crack.

Unbeaten in four starts since joining the Closutton trainer from Guillame Macaire in France, the Irish raider was impressive here in March when claiming the Trull House Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle by a wide margin over Cap Soleil; she subsequently followed up at Fairyhouse with another impressive defeat of Lackaneen Leader little over two weeks later.

There is surely more to come from her, and yet to be fully extended in her four runs to date it is difficult as a result to know just how good she could be. This would be her first outing in open company, and the prospect of decent ground rates an unknown given all her form to date has come in softer conditions.

Laurina could make the journey to Cheltenham from Willie Mullin's Closutton base.

SUMMERVILLE BOY (11/4, Unibet) ran a shocker when making his seasonal debut in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, although even t his best it is doubtful he could have offered any real resistance to Champion Hurdler Buveur D’air who was faultless in brushing aside Samcro.

It was a perplexing run by Tom George’s star who was beaten a long way out, and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner can’t be judged too harshly on that first run which may have been needed. He wasn’t given an unduly hard time in the race, and he could well build on the performance to do better back at the scene of his biggest triumph.

His performance here back in March lives on the memory, winning despite making a real hash of each of the last two hurdles, and he can be given another chance especially if the ground comes more in his favour.

Vision Des Flos (10/1, Unibet) finished ahead of Summerville Boy on that occasion, and the Balko gelding could give another good account.

Colin Tizzard’s charge finished runner-up in two Grade One contests last term as a novice, and having unseated on his chase debut at Ffos Las back in October he was quickly sent back over timber where he found only Wholestone too strong at Aintree prior to his Fighting Fifth Hurdle third.

He had had the benefit of race-fitness over Summerville Boy in that Newcastle run, and he’s not certain to uphold that form here if Tom George’s charge finds improvement for his own return to action.

Silver Streak (8/1, Unibet) is progressing well, winning the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock in May and then returning from five months off the track to beat Le Prezien at Ffos Las in October.

Evan Williams’ charge subsequently posted an excellent run in the Greatwood Hurdle over course and distance, finding only Nietzsche too strong by a neck. He had Old Guard behind him on that occasion, and still with some scope to improve further he can post a big run here for all this will demand more if he’s to confirm that form with Paul Nicholls’ charge who was arguably given too much to do.

Western Ryder (10/1, Unibet) finished fifth in that Greatwood Hurdle, but Warren Greatrex’s charge has plenty on his plate to reverse form with Evan Williams’ charge; while he was beaten behind Summerville Boy in both the Tolworth Hurdle and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last term and he’ll need to find a jolt of improvement if he is to best that rival here.

Western Ryder locks horns again with Summerville Boy.

Unison (40/1, Unibet) is hard to fancy stepping into this company with Jeremy Scott’s charge used to plying his trade at a much lower level.

The Jeremy gelding was last seen finishing third of six runners behind Mystic Sky, having earlier been beaten behind Verdana Blue at Kempton, and he is unlikely to prove a factor in this contest.


Laurina could prove a tough nut to crack if taking her place in the line-up, but Willie Mullins’ charge is plenty short enough for a horse stepping into open company against the opposite sex for the first time, while the potential for better ground also rates an unknown with all her form coming on softer ground.

Brain Power is interesting back over hurdles, but it could be worth giving another chance to SUMMERVILLE BOY (11/4, Unibet) who ran a shocker in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle on his return, but Tom George’s charge could be better suited back at this venue which was the scene of his greatest triumph to date.

The Sandmason gelding won last season’s Tolworth Hurdle prior to overcoming two late errors to win the Supreme Novicdes’ Hurdle; his run at Newcastle last time is best ignored, and he can do better with that outing under his belt.

Softer ground would suit, and with rain forecast then conditions could come in his favour; but he has made the frame previously on good-to-soft ground and it would be no surprise to see him posting an improved effort as he bids to make a case for a tilt at the Champion Hurdle in March.


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2018 Unibet International Hurdle tips - George's 11/4 chance can bounce back from Fighting Fifth flop

Brian Healy gives his runner-by-runner guide to the potential big race field for Saturday's Unibet International Hurdle.

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